Men’s Tennis: Northwestern secures historic victory in dramatic fashion over Illinois

Benjy Apelbaum, Reporter

Men’s Tennis

Northwestern just keeps on rolling.

The No. 11 Wildcats (14-1) stretched their winning streak to 11 and broke their 27-match losing streak against No. 8 Illinois in a thrilling 4-3 match, their first victory over the Illini (7-6) since 1997. NU then went on to easily defeat Detroit (2-9) 7-0 later in the day.

The Cats set a number of records by winning their matches Saturday. The Illinois win gave NU its best start in program history and was also its first win over a top-10 team since the ITA began archiving rankings in 1981.

The historic nature of the match was not lost on coach Arvid Swan who was elated at the improvement of the team over his nine years as the coach.

“We’re trying to build a program here, you know, our guys are buying in and we’re trying to break streaks, Swan said. “A goal our year was to beat Illinois so I’m happy we’re able to get it done.”

The team had already lost to Illinois once this season, a 4-0 defeat on January 23 that nevertheless had four three-set matches.

Saturday’s match began with the Cats winning the doubles point 2-1 and was clinched by juniors Konrad Zieba and Sam Shropshire who won their set 6-4 off a break of serve on deuce point.

The singles matches got off to mixed starts with NU only winning two of the six first sets. Junior Alp Horoz quickly closed out his match 6-2, 6-1. However that would be the only match of the day that did not go to three sets.

After junior Strong Kirchheimer and senior Fedor Baev dropped their third sets at No. 3 and 4 singles, Shropshire gave the Cats their third point of the day and put them within one match match of winning.

Shropshire had to come back from a set down to win by a score of 3-6, 6-4, 7-5. His hard-fought win came against No. 8 Jared Hiltzik, an opponent he had lost to in their last three matches, and had a satisfied Shropshire with ice bags on his joints afterwards.

“I just need to stay mentally strong, I think that’s one of the bigger things when I play (Hiltzik),” Shropshire said. “He kind of keeps you in points for a long time and long matches so I have to stay with him mentally.”

No. 11 Konrad Zieba’s comeback was held off by No. 6 Aleks Vukic at first singles and evened the score at 3-3. Then the eyes of a standing-room only crowd at Combe Tennis Center turned to freshman Ben Vandixhorn’s match against Asher Hirsch at fifth singles.

Vandixhorn had to weather his share of adversity just to force a third set. The freshman was down a set and a break and had to fight off a match point on Hirsch’s serve just to force a tiebreaker in the second. After falling behind 5-2 in the tiebreaker, he battled back to win it 8-6. Vandixhorn dominated the third set and closed it out 6-2 with an overhead winner as his teammates rushed the court to celebrate the historic victory.

“I just knew I had to keep fighting, I was just right there from breaking through in the match,” Vandixhorn said. “A lot of our games were really close … but I felt like I was right there so I knew if I just got on a roll a little bit it would start going my way.”

This was an emotional win for Vandixhorn, who is from Libertyville, Illinois and grew up watching both Illini and NU play. Vandixhorn said he enjoyed the electric atmosphere of the match, even if many in the packed stands were Illinois fans.

He then bluntly expressed the sentiment that many on this team felt after so many losses to the Illini.

“We were sick and tired of losing to Illinois,” Vandixhorn said. “We knew coming out there if we fought our hardest, we were going to win.”

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